confessions of a professional grad school applicant, part 3

and now i’m in seattle, and all of the visiting of schools is done.  the university of washington is a school i’ve been thinking of, on and off, but as i was shuttling up the east coast, the joy of the humidity plus the stress of coordinating one more visit was too much for me, and i never tried to make a visit to uw happen.  today, i’ve been wandering around my old seattle haunts, contemplating the dreaminess, beauty, craziness, sadness, and creativity that one finds here.  i am uncomfortable with the prevalence of mental illness and poverty as i walk around, and just want to sequester myself in bookstores, coffeeshops, and vintage things, which is of course ironic because i’m so interested in class and disability.  it is sunny today, but i think part of the discomfort is the grimy understanding that that person howling on the street corner could be you, and when it’s drizzling, it sort of feels like they are all you.  and of course i know that in new york, there are all those pieces as well, and it’s harder to just make it there, in many ways, but the time i lived in seattle was one of the saddest parts of my life, through no fault of its own.
anyway, after my last post, i quickly started to think of philadelphia as “the city of brotherly HOOOOONNNNK!”  getting the rental car was tremendously stressful, because we had to get out of a parking garage that was under construction, and thus had all of its signs pointing in directions to nowhere.  by the time we made it out, we were exhausted and stressed, especially considering the fact that we were also hungry.  so we got food quickly (getting honked at all the time) and then got on the highway to happy valley (getting honked at all the time).  we did not understand what lane to get in for the toll booth, so we got honked at some more, and in general the ride was high stress punctuated by quiet lulls.  every time things seemed to get into place, some minor disaster would occur, and there would be more honking.  in the middle of the drive, the gps took us to a starbucks that was in a weird shopping center, and t collapsed in an amazingly comfortable adirondack chair.  the adirondack chair life is something we both crave.  after some relaxing there, we went and got some gas, but that, too, became an occasion for stress and honking due to confusion about the location of the gas tank.

finally we made it to state college, which i decided must be like “stars hollow,” where “the gilmore girls” takes place.  our hotel was a decent chain hotel, with a friday’s out in the parking lot.  after unloading the car, we looked up vegetarian food, and there weren’t a ton of options, but a pizza place sounded good, so we went there.  i loved it in its salty, greasiness, but it turned out to be wrong for the pregnant lady.  we watched “friends” (on nick at nite, what!?) until we fell asleep.

the following morning, i went to my appointment at penn state, and was delighted by the kindness and enthusiasm of the professor i was meeting with.  she showed me around the impressive reading camp they were having (which made me think that: a) i am a terrible teacher and b) i was woefully ill-prepared in a practical way), and actually said out loud that she wants me to come to the program, so that was nice.  sometimes, though, i feel like i’ve tricked people when they say things like that to me after only a few emails and conversations.  anyway, i was impressed with the program and could be happy in it.
t and i met back up for lunch with a couple who i’d gotten in touch with via the lgbta grad association.  i’d emailed them and explained our situation, and was told that this couple had a similar situation.  they were kind and sweet and open, wonderful to talk with, and we learned a lot about family life in general, queer family life in specific, and how to connect with good doctors.  also, when i noticed that they both wore crosses, i asked about queer friendly churches, and soon the quakers were mentioned.  when i said i was a quaker, i was told that there was a wonderful quaker working at this bookstore/cafe, so we went there and i was introduced to a woman with vibrant and goofy energy, who i shyly and awkwardly greeted before t and i dashed away to get back on the road to the city of brotherly HOOOOONNNK! so she could catch her megabus back to new york.

my impression of the town and school was that it was quaint and old-fashioned, though with a definite college student presence.  later, discussing with t, who had been wandering around the town, the college student presence was very strong for her.

at the hotel, i’d bought t an extra megabus ticket for an hour later than our original booking to make sure she wouldn’t get stuck without one.  this was good, because we got there just after our original booking had left.  then, there were decisions about how much time the pregnant lady should stand out in the heat while waiting for the bus.  once we’d committed to standing out there, the bus wound up being about half an hour late.  i’d made an appointment for dinner with <a href=”http://robinmsf.blogspot.com”>robin</a&gt; and <a href=”http://chrismsf.blogspot.com”>chris</a&gt;, so i ran back into the station as soon as we saw t’s bus coming.

the city of brotherly HOOOOOONNNK! quickly became a maze of confusion transit options, and i wound up getting on the wrong one.  eventually i found robin, though, and we took the train to the house that her family was to move out of in a week.  ironically, the only other time i’d been to their house was right before another move.  my traveling dazedness made for some awkward dinner conversation, but i was treated to some delicious cheese and stir-fried vegetables, as well as a welcome popsicle.

then back to the train station where i settled in to a book before getting on my overnight train to boston.  it was an eight hour ride, which seemed perfect in theory, but since i could never get into a comfortable position for sleeping, and there was a teenager behind me histrionically vacillating between schmoopy phone calls with her boyfriend and angry conversations with her family who were on the train, i didn’t actually get much sleep.  but i think i slept through connecticut, so i don’t think it’s fair for me to really say i’ve ever been to connecticut.

i navigated the boston transit system much better than the one in philly, despite feeling exhausted, filthy, and unkempt.  i ordered breakfast at a diner with a young man who called me all those funny masculine names that i don’t understand (i don’t think he called me “chief” or “big guy” but it was things like that),  and while it was being made, i changed clothes in the bathroom.  i felt moderately less gross after that.  then, i went out into the heat to wait for the shuttle bus i’d been told about, but after waiting for an hour, i decided it must not run in the summer, and i got into a cab that had been sitting there the whole time.  the thing that stalled me the most from getting into the cab was that i only knew the name of the building i wanted to go to, not its actual address, but the cab driver knew what i meant.

boston college has free wifi for guests, which was nice, so i sat in a comfy lobby and de-sweated while i waited for my appointments.  i met with one professor who was very nice and then the really enthusiastic and friendly student who had organized my visit.  then, i got to sit in on the only class of this whole college tour– critical race theory, and wow is that something i want to do.  the professor of the class was poised and brilliant, and the students were open and also brilliant, engaging with the topic and each other in wonderful ways.

it’s hard because so many things i’ve experienced on this trip have not swayed me exactly from one school to another, but just further and further towards excitement about grad school.  i want to have those deep conversations and engage with people in the way that this trip has been opening up.  but there has not been one clear winner so far.

i took the megabus back to new york.  this megabus came to the regular bus bay, and so it was more comfortable than waiting in philly or new york.  but one megabus cruelly came and left 10 minutes before our bus was supposed to leave, and then the next bus came 45 minutes later, so i got into new york very late at night.  but t and her bff had delicious food waiting for me.

the truth is new york feels like love to me.  every person i know there is tremendously sweet and takes wonderful care of me, making sure i knew where i’m going and how to get there.  there have been few people angry at me or even angry near me.  sure, the subway rocks a lot, and the ground is disgusting, but i feel oddly buoyant and impermeable in new york.  it is clear, though, that t does not feel that way.  and that is fine.  i have such a romantic vision of new york, it is probably best to keep it that way.

my last bit of new york included visiting carroll gardens and getting swept away by cute shops and cafes.  i am easily swept away by cute shops and cafes.  the next day, t flew back to san francisco, which was very sad and i didn’t want to stop touching her belly.

i’d accidentally flaked out on some vague appointments because i got my dates mixed up, but i was able to reschedule one of them.  so after t left, i took the subway to another friend’s apartment away up in washington heights.  we set up my new air mattress on the floor and then went and got amazing pizza.  then we went looking for a place to get a key for me and to wander around central park.  sadly there was no key to be had.  but the wandering was nice.  eventually we went to columbia, where his office is, and i sat in the lobby eating snacks and using the internet late into the night.  this was funny to me, because i’m not looking at columbia.

the next day, i went to washington square and got a dosa and sat down at a park bench.  then i realized that speed levitch was giving a tour right next to me.  he was commenting on the sexualness of the arch.  i was amused because he spoke at new college a few years ago, and felt like this moment would have really impressed my 21 year old self.

then i went to the coffeehouse where i was going to meet an nyu student.  i sat in a seat near the front and watched the door.  i had the odd advantage of her google+ picture popping up on my email screen, unbidden, as i reread the email.  unfortunately it was arty and shadowed, so i only knew to look for glasses.  i saw someone with glasses go up to another young woman who shook her head no, so i went up to the woman with glasses, who barely registered me, i think because she thought my name belonged to a woman (this has happened a lot on this trip, btw).

we went back out to a park bench and she told me about nyu.  she was very serious but very friendly and answered all of my questions thoughtfully and enthusiastically.

i wandered around the area a bunch, slithering illicitly into bookstores (i’m not really allowed to buy books right now) as it started to rain.  one of my daydreams of new york life involves working in a bookstore again.  i miss it.

i met back up with the friend i’m staying with, so i could buy what he thinks are the best bagels in new york.  then, i went to my meeting with a cuny student.  we met in a two story diner with a waiter with a wry sense of humor.  the student i met with was very friendly and fun to talk with, and also very enthusiastic about the program.

i have a better feel for new york than i do for the two programs.  in some ways the websites for the programs are so vast that it’s hard to get a true handle on things.  but i’m excited about both, nonetheless.

and then yesterday, after 5 hours of sleep, i got up and went to my plane for seattle, stopping in salt lake city, utah, which was a shockingly pleasant experience.  the airport had a bike cop, easily accessible sharps containers, recycling, veggie burgers served by people who made sure i knew what was vegan even though i’m not vegan, and deep fried pickles.  land of contrasts, indeed.

so now i just have to decide.  admittedly, p.j. harvey’s rendition of peggy lee’s “is that all there is?” is sort of rambling through my head today.  there are schools i’m definitely, unquestionably excited about, but the adventure time is over and now it’s just negotiating applications and decisions, which is less fun than a trip up the east coast.  there are viable options for sure, but there was no clear winner, especially in the “where to live to raise a family” category of decision making.

i thought i would spend the flight to seattle poring over my notes and materials, but instead i’m kind of consciously taking a break from thinking about it, letting my subconscious shake some stuff out first.  we’ll see where it lands.  for now, i will just be here in seattle, thinking about my past, and planning for the wonderful wedding of two lovely friends.

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he’s both a fish and a mammal and i hope he’ll never change

one of the big questions i wrestle with lately is about the necessity of christianity for me. i think it will always be a question i wrestle with, because christianity has so many different facets and meanings. “clearly” i have no use for the angry fundamentalist christianity that seems to be what most people equate with all christianity, and i hope to never go back there again. but it has its ghosts in my psyche, raw nerves i’m still nervous about touching.

my girlfriend, who i’ve been with for four years and who i’m planning a life with, was raised, basically, areligious. and i live in urban areas and queer communities that can also be fairly areligious. and there is a pride there that makes sense in the face of the religion that makes it on the news, the religion that seems to wear ignorance as a badge of honor. the problem then, though, is that ignorance of religion becomes the opposite badge of honor. i am continuously upset by the angry war between the religious and the nonreligious, because i think they’re actually on the same side which is the side of anger and fear.

my areligious girlfriend and i try to be on the side of love. and if god is love, is religion necessary?

the answer, for me, is that it can be helpful. it can provide a framework and a discipline for transforming and growing love past something shallow and greeting card.

the challenge, though, is moving past my own shy fear of unpopular opinions and desire for happy family life, and trying to ethically and honestly live a life based somewhere in religion while living with, loving and honoring my girlfriend and her traditions.

chad has been teasing me lately because i have the key to all over the meetinghouse now, and “you know what that means,” he says. responsibility! he was the young adult group’s guest speaker this past week, and he even brought his own guest speaker, wess daniels, via the magic of the internet. that was pretty exciting.

this morning, he teased me again, because i recognized almost all of the young adults who were at meeting. he says that’s like having keys. it feels good.

but it’s also funny to be this official. it’s funny to be the young adult guy– to organize speakers and be in this middle place. it’s a different middle place than it was a few months ago– more practical, less interpersonal. i’m not translating anybody these days. i’m just making sure spaces get reserved and things like that.

it’s also starting to be time for my job as retreat registrar to really get underway. i was co-registrar last year, and now i’m testing myself and seeing if i can actually keep it all together. so far it’s not going to badly, except for the embarrassing fact that waiting for stamp and photocopy reimbursements is an actual financial strain.

i’ve been applying to jobs for next school year. i just this week got my summer plans mostly sorted out. but next school year, a lot of school jobs are already taken, and i’m actually wondering if i just in fact want to work with people. kids are people, of course, and i love working with them, but i’m wondering if maybe i just like work that stretches my interpersonal skills.

i’m really into scary conversations right now. i actually don’t have that many, but i love them. i want to learn how to hold them and make them safe. i think this is definitely linked to my anti-racist concern. i’ve had my first clearness committee about this whole diversity thing. and we’ve finally got a date for the ad hoc working group on diversity. i want to learn how to facilitate things and make people glad that they went to scary places together. i think that’s the only way that change happens.

listen listen listen. it will bust you open and you will be glad.

everybody’s got their something

i’m reading two books that are working as companions to each other:

if god is love: rediscovering grace in an ungracious world by philip gulley & james mulholland

&

wide awake by david levithan

i’ve never read anything by the authors of the former, but it’s in our meetinghouse library, and it’s been recommended by a few people (like robin m.). it’s a hopeful, helpful book about acceptance, love and compassion as part of what god is and what god wants.

david levithan is my favorite young adult writer alive today. i’ve read 2 other books by him, and each book he writes seems to fill an empty space in the universe. the books he writes the world needs, and he writes them lovingly and elegantly. this book is about a time in the not too distant future when a gay jewish president is elected! it’s set after “the reign of fear” and during “the jesus revolution” when people– especially young people– are embracing that whole love and compassion and acceptance part of christianity. it’s a delicious book.

***

the beyond diversity 101 training has been postponed until the fall. i’m sad, but it also makes things feel a bit more expansive. i don’t have to “get everything done” by the end of march. and i feel okay with exploring local options a bit more.

as usual, i got my head out from under the blankets by laying out exactly what they were with a few friends (of varying capitalizations) and experiencing their compassion with my confusion. golly, i love that there are people in my life who will let me be a brat for awhile and will actually scold me for calling myself a brat, rather than for the bratty things. because the only way to get through them is to just have them and accept them and to… get through them.

you cannot scold yourself away. you will always be there with your everything. and so will everyone. and accepting all of that is the challenge. and it can be a pain in the butt, but it can also be really fun.

i’ve been struggling with some stuff lately.

one thing is that i decided to write a letter to richard dawkins, author of the god delusion. i wrote it and it lives on our kitchen table until i work up the nerve to read the book and write more after having read it.

the same day i wrote that letter, i read a piece in an anarchist zine that seemed to equate right wing christianity and… christianity as a whole. and i was like, “i think i feel like i can handle this challenge. i think i can tell this person, who i already know a little anyway, about my upsets at the mass media’s portrayal of christianity as closed-minded, selfish, and cruel.” and so i wrote this impassioned email. and he wrote back. and something, i don’t even know what, hit my giant doubting button. no wait. nothing he said. but me trying to figure out how to respond.

how do i tell this person, whose calling is to be anti-authority, that there might be an ultimate authority… and that things still suck a whole lot?

and so i’ve been going through the “so much suffering, why why why?” thing… and the “what DO i think of god as authority” thing. and then last week i had that brilliant idea to skip out on the group where i can talk about this sort of stuff.

the second thing i’ve been thinking about is my greeting experience. and the way that it has become a kind of giant thing. and how i posted about it as a tangential bit to a post about the amazingness of giving vocal ministry for the very first time and it got put on quakerquaker as being about my greeting experience. and people from meeting still keep coming up to me and checking in. and i dunno… i am fine. my pride was wounded and confused for awhile, and i’m excited that some discussions are starting about how we greet… but i feel like i’m being treated like a victim of something… but when i start thinking of victims in this case, giant issues about poverty, mental health, and how to really be kind and respectful to someone all come up. and i don’t think i’m ready to tackle them. and so i am kind of grouchy about the whole thing. and confused. and i should probably have some more out loud conversations about it, rather than just stewing about it all and getting angry at people for caring about me. i appreciate the care. hugely. i feel a part of the meeting in a different way now. and i like that. i just feel like the person i’m worried about is the guy who i let in. and i hate that i feel totally helpless about him.

the third thing i’ve been thinking about is sex. and not in a pondering deep meanings kind of way. except then i start wondering if i should be. except then… i find that i can’t.

puck and i have a mostly-previously-unexplored poly-friendly relationship. and a few months ago, i started dating a very nice lady. and she and puck are also getting along well. and things are very cozy and happy. and i am a giant ball of hormones.

plus, i have apparently started getting hot flashes. seriously. boy puberty and menopause all at once. it’s fascinating.

(this has way oversimplified the whole relationship. i have been having many talks with myself and with others about how to do this relationship in the best way possible, and i’ve been praying about both of my relationships so much. and i am doing my best to be mindful and prayerful and careful and everything. but the point of it being in this post is that my attention span for deep issues keeps being trumped by my inner teenager.)

the friends school just called and asked when i could start coming in to do clerical work. eep! yip! yay!

from 11-10’s paper journal:

“i feel sour & exhausted & utterly human today.

i think it might be my flu shot, because my muscles are so sluggish i a way that seems unbeatable & ingrained. not just sleepy or sad, but a deep exhaustion.

my relationship optimism is waning again. a few days ago, i was like, ‘there might be things i need to change about myself.’ i need the force of character that i’m lacking by not being able to handle this relationship. but today i am tired of negotiating needs. of losing myself in the purification necessary to keep going.

in the past week, ipods have come up 3 times– twice with quakers and once in tikkun. it’s funny because it makes me want to defend my ipod use, but i think it’s good to make me interrogate it- make sure that it’s really for innocuous, or hopefully positive use– shielding me from the world only when that’s really necessary, giving me an air of dancing joy when possible.

my eyes are drippy from a tiny exhaustion nap. not currently moving too much. i feel sort of refreshed, but i’m not sure how i will handle actual movement.

connection & spirituality– these are my two big interests. they should coexist harmoniously, but sometimes they collide harshly.

last night, at study group, [someone] said that when [they look] back at things [they] highlighted when [they] were younger, [they] are struck by how naive [they were]– & i think i have some insight into why such statements (& i’ve made similar) are hard to hear by a younger person. we are always so thoroughly ourselves– that the idea that we might change enough to be embarassed by this specific existence– is hard to hear, hard to think about.

i just so much want to find synthesis between different points of view. it feels like a calling, but also a want, so maybe it’s not a calling.

i think part of what works so specifically for me at meeting is the sitting in the circle. i really feel like god is there in the middle. i’ve always believed that god is love is interconnectedness, & that center is where we all meet in worship. it is amazing.

i am lucky/blessed to have the time that i have right now for contemplation. next week i won’t have that. i feel spoiled to have it, and also that it’s completely necessary. if i can keep doing it, i think i should try. it’s good for me, the way i’ve been doing it. it’s discipline, which i need, & it makes things make sense. having texts has become so helpful.”

a note on capitalization:

i’ve always been rather… concerned about the way that proper names are capitalized. setting people apart in a way that other things are not set apart always made me sad. particularly capitalizing the “i” for myself… i didn’t like that. in college, i started taking away those capitals. then i realized that i prefer the aesthetic of lower-case, anyway.

in formal things, i started using traditional capitalization, but pretty much always my name in lower-case, and if i felt like i could get away with it, the i’s. when i got my legal tranny name change, i got it legally lower-case.

writing about god in lower case is something that i’ve been thinking about a lot, and right now i feel like it’s necessary for it to stay personal.

paper journal entry from 11-3.

“i’ve been reading so much spiritual stuff, but i’ve realized i should really work more on synthesizing &* digesting it. in some ways, i’ve been just swallowing a lot of it, without really tasting it– so how could i understand it.

most recently, i read an essay about mel gibson’s passion of christ** film. the gist seemed to be that jews need to get over themselves– the anti-semitism isn’t meant, the film isn’t about them.

i feel like in a lot of ways this winds up becoming a ‘christianity is about faith’ vs. ‘christianity is about caring for others’ argument. & so… the author is right, but if one finds the message of christ a humanitarian one, making a film about him that hurts people intimately– doesn’t seem right.

—***

i’ve been thinking so much lately about quakerism vs. uu. uu’s keep feeling like such wishy-washy quakers. the humanitarian ideals are there– but they so much lack the sense of personal responsibility– the quaker understanding of this seems to come so much from the belief in a christ/god within that must answer to the same within others– that one cannot/should not rest until that has been answered– while uu’s seem to come from such a place of ‘we have been wounded & are tender & exploring’ which is fine a lot– but a poor endpoint.

my us vs. them thing makes me nervous. just last night i talked about the danger of being disdainful to who we’ve been…

[last night, i was] thinking about how the problem is not with choice but with lazy choices. i think its fine to bring together things from multiple traditions– if they resonate, if they are real, if they feel true, if they challenge as well as comfort. we live in such a multicultural society, to ignore others’ paths to the truth is xenophobic in some ways.

…**** i had it so well in my head last night. it was tight & beautiful– without the flowers that seem to be getting in my way now.

we all come to the truth from different directions. it doesn’t matter if your path is eclectic, as long as you walk it authentically.

i really want to be a quaker, and i really, weirdly, want t proselytize.

‘here is beauty & community & supporting love. here is a challenge to be your best self. come.’

i’m nervous about how self-y i get in my spiritual searches. i get squinty-eyed & hunkered down– to work. distractions make me stressed & harsh. in such an intimate relationship as that which i have, that can be bad. i’d like to greet distraction kindly. it could give me as much gifts as solitude.

***

i just read an essay from the quaker seekers packet about ‘friends & womankind.’

i’m so used to viewing gender as passe & hurtful. it divides, it imposes rules, it devalues who we really are.

but! gender can be who we really are. i know that.

i only ever have patience for people who strive for authenticity– by my own perceptions & judgments of such.”

* i am actually completely incapable of drawing an ampersand. but i do a shorthand “and” that is like a swoopy t or plus sign. ironically, i started doing this after my fifth grade teacher told us we were not allowed to use it in our work. i’d never seen such a thing before. i don’t think i ever used it in my work, or at least i tried hard not to. i’m explaining this so that you know that my journal is not actually full of ampersands. sadly.

** in my writing, i underline rather than italicize. can one actually italicize while writing. i have not figured it out.

*** the — is when i have a line drawn between sections of an entry. sometimes i will indicate this with asterisks here.

**** usually …’s mean that i’m leaving something out, but not in this case. the ellipsis is in journal.